The first stage of making Neymar the biggest footballing star in the world is completed with his move to Barcelona. The next one is fulfilling his potential with the Brazilian national team, aiming to win the world cup on their home soil, hoping that the Confederations Cup will be a way to get out of the downward spiral they’ve entered.
Some say friendly matches don’t mean anything, but after so many of them, a noticeable trend can’t be overlooked. Brazil have fallen to 22nd in the world on the FIFA rankings, who usually don’t mean too much to anyone, but still indicate the problems the national side has been having under Scolari since he took over the job eight months ago.
Brazil have played seven times since their new-old head coach took the job, winning only twice: Once against Bolivia (4-0, and most recently against France (3-0), in a match that might indicate that maybe this talented yet disjointed group of players is finally coming together.
Neymar isn’t the captain of a Brazilian star that lacks offensive stars compared with Brazilian sides of old, but those big names haven’t helped them in the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, as they failed to make it beyond the quarterfinals twice in a row, overshadowed by better European sides in France and the Netherlands. On both occasions, the team that beat Brazil went on to reach the final and lose.
The confederations cup are no real indicator. Spain lost to the United States in 2009 in the semifinal, while Brazil beat the Americans a few days later to claim the title. A year later, in South Africa, the Spanish side finished on top. They’re also the favorites to win this tournament in Brazil, coming with two Euros and a World Cup title backing them.
The Brazilian side hasn’t been getting a lot of love from its fans, including Neymar. He might be their biggest star, even without ever playing for a European club (yet), but his inability to translate his superstardom into a winning ability, which included a very strong side losing to Mexico in the Olympic final (a tournament that’s very important to the Brazilians), has caused quite a few to overlook his talent and focus on his achievements, and ability to lead this team to glory.
At Barcelona, there will be plenty of focus, but also someone to share it with him. When he plays for the Selecao, it’s all on him. Despite Oscar coming from Chelsea and Lucas Moura from PSG, Neymar is the one everyone is waiting to see. To become the next Ronaldo and Romario, who had great careers in Europe and in Brazil, but have the ultimate honor to their name, the World Cup.
And Brazil need to start gaining momentum. Three years of unimpressive results don’t rule them out of winning the World Cup in 2014, but it’s not the kind of portfolio you want to be carrying around with you as the host nation. No player will be under more scrutiny and criticism than Neymar in the next couple of weeks, just like Lionel Messi was in the 2011 Copa America, which seemed to get to him a bit too much.
Neymar is different from Messi in the fact that he’s been playing in Brazil instead of being brought up for most of his life in Europe. Does it make him more immune to the pressure? We’ll have to wait and see, but the next step in proving he’s truly the next Brazilian footballing legend goes through the Confederations Cup. Not that important that they win it, but it is very important that Neymar has one hell of a tournament.